‘Satisfactory but could do better’ comes to mind as we consider Neil Lennon’s first months in charge at Celtic Park. We cannot ignore early exits from the Champions League and the Europa League as well as a bad defeat at the hands of a less than great Rangers team when you are considering Lennon’s Celtic impact. Arguably victories against other SPL teams only prove Celtic may cope with English League 1 standards!
Having said that, Celtic only find themselves one point behind the Champions Rangers after their draw against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the weekend. Furthermore, it has to be said that Lennon is still building the foundations of a team that will eventually compete at the highest level. Shrewd signings like that of Emilio Izaguirre and Joe Ledley demonstrate that, in spite of many Celtic fans contrary opinion it would seem that Lennon is serious about taking Celtic to the next level. He has yet however, to see the obvious potential of players like Ki, Juarez, Cha and McCourt materialise. If these players can step up to the plate then Lennon’s team will soon prove to be a force to be reckoned with both at home and in Europe.
Lennon’s biggest worry is arguably the marshmallow central defence which has remained problematic the whole season. Despite having Johan Mjallby, a former Swedish captain and international central defender, as assistant manager there does not seem to be any marked improvement in these players’ performances. Either Lennon is not using Mjallby’s coaching expertise effectively or the present incumbents are just not good enough!
Lennon also has to permanently solve his goalkeeping situation. It is clear that Zaluska is not in his long term plans and current loan signing Forster was found wanting, in spite of some great saves in other games, when it mattered against bitter rivals Rangers. When Celtic could pick up average keepers such as Evan Williams in the glory days of the 70’s are long gone. In those days Celtic had sufficient class throughout their team to allow such signings. However, it is evident that Neil Lennon does not have such a luxury. It has been muted that unsettled Manchester City shot stopper Shay Given is interested in rejoining his former Club. It is up to the Celtic board to ensure that a signing of such calibre becomes a realistic long term solution.
Whilst Hooper and Stokes sound a potent force on paper and indeed have continually provided Celtic with the goals they need, it is still early days to judge whether or not they have what it takes to provide the much needed firepower to win the Scottish Premier League. Samaras, on the other hand, promising much with the ball at his feet, has consistently failed to find the net. Strikers are paid to score goals and it is just not happening for him at the moment. Perhaps Lennon should have a word with Celtic Legend Henrik Larsson who visited Celtic Park on Friday, on how best to guide the big Greek to the opposition’s net.
It would seem having said all this that there is sufficient evidence for optimism for Lennon’s future. On the other hand it is clear that much hard work and some key signings are needed if he is to emulate some of his greatest predecessors.
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